Back in 1989, a rock-rumped sports columnist writing under my name shared this opinion with readers of The Washington Times: "Now and forever, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Brainless Pete Rose have one thing in common. Neither belongs in the Hall of Fame."
I'm still ambivalent about Jackson, whose socks might have been only dingy gray while his Black Sox teammates were tossing the 1919 World Series. Nowadays, though, I have a different slant on the only player to make more hits than Tyrus Raymond Cobb.
Mea culpa. Or to use more contemporary language, my bad.
Let baseball's Hit King back into baseball. He has paid his dues.
We still don't know how often or how much Rose bet on his Cincinnati Reds in the late '80s after he finished going into that ridiculous deep crouch and smacking a record 4,256 hits. But there should be a statute of limitations for punishing a guy who spent every baseball minute trying to win games during 23 seasons in the bigs.
After 22 years of wandering in the horsehide wilderness, it's time for baseball to reinstate him, thus opening Cooperstown's hallowed halls for one of the sport's most endearing performers.
A personal disclaimer seems in order. Pete Rose is the only player outside Washington or Baltimore whose progress I tracked every day in the box scores. His singular love of baseball's history and traditions gave him a rounders cachet matched by no other player then or now.
To Rose, baseball was fun as well as serious business. Watch third baseman Pete pretend to hold a base runner's belt between pitches. See Pete kick dirt repeatedly on an umpire's shoes while both he and the man in blue giggle. Listen to Pete gabbing away so long on a telephone interview with a Washington writer that he misses batting practice.
For so many of us, the thought and the wish were inescapable: If I had the talent to play baseball for a living, I'd want to play it just like Pete Rose.
True, Rose often has been a pain in the butt since then-commissioner Bart Giamatti thumbed him out in 1989. For years, he refused to admit wrongdoing, then tried to justify it. Often he sullied Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., by selling personal memorabilia at a booth on Main Street. Seeing him shill, you wanted to slap him upside the head. Either that or call the cops.
Now, at a well-seasoned 70, Charlie Hustle seems to have beaten some sense into Charlie Hustler. In a recent interview with Steve Greenberg of Sporting News, he owned up.
"I can't blame anybody [else] — I'm the one who made the mistakes." Rose told Greenberg. "I'm at ease with everything now. I've got it off my chest. I'd certainly like to get a second chance. ... This is America, and you get second chances."
Self-serving? Of course, but what's wrong with that?
Rose also described himself as "baseball's best ambassador ... I'll be talking baseball with people all day, not just about me but about [his teams]. I do this every day — talk positive about the game, and baseball's real easy to talk negative about today."
Did somebody mention Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and their suspect ilk? Maybe somebody should. As far as we know, they didn't bet on baseball. Almost certainly, they cheated at it instead.
If and when commissioner Bud Selig or an enlightened successor overturns Rose's ban, we can only hope Pete is around to see it. Regarding the late Sparky Anderson, his manager during Cincy's illustrious Big Red Machine days of the 1970s, Rose ripped the Detroit Tigers for waiting until this season to retire Sparky's number.
"If you're going to honor a guy, why wait until he's dead?" No. 14 ranted. "What good does it do Sparky now? He's [expletive] dead!"
And will baseball grant Rose official forgiveness only after he has passed from this mortal coil?
"I don't worry about that. I don't plan on dying in the next couple of years."
Commissioner, it's time to restore Peter Edward Rose's baseball birthright - and let's hustle it up.
• For more of the Heller's columns, go to dickheller.wordpress. com.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.